Editors note: Sean Pitts is the director of the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Ely and has more than 35 years experience in the history profession. He has taught history for Great Basin College for twenty nine years and is among the leading authorities of eastern Nevada History. Special thanks to the Nevada Historical Society and the Nevada State Library and Archive for providing information for this article.
By Sean Pitts
The discovery of rich silver ore brought tens of thousands of people to remote east central Nevada between 1868 and 1869. Estimates put the population of the county at nearly 40,000.
The commercial center of Hamilton had quickly become the second largest city in Nevada. Mines were producing ore with amazing value, mills were working 24 hours a day, and businesses were booming.
Fortunes were being created with investors from as far away as New York, Paris and London purchasing and selling mining claims on what had become known as the famous “Treasure Hill.”
The population had swelled so quickly it was necessary for residents to create a permanent government. The first petition for the creation of a new county was circulated in the winter of 1868. Initially, the proposed name of the new county would be “Ruby” but the name had already been claimed by those living to the north in Ruby Valley.
White Pine was considered the better name since it was already recognized as the site of the mining district.
Originally the early miners were residents of a massive Lander County with the county seat located in Austin over 100 miles away.
A newly organized county would place establish a center of government closer to the mining and milling of the area. Mass meetings were held in Treasure City, Hamilton and Shermantown to promote the idea of a new county. Three men were nominated to act as County Commissioners until officials could be elected.
Residents of the town of Austin opposed the splitting of Lander County. The revenue being produced by the White Pine Mining District was a boom to their sagging economy.
They presented a protesting petition to the Nevada State Legislature asking for the county status to remain unchanged.
Two factors prompted the law makers to table the petition. The first was Lander County’s debt which was continuing to increase as the earliest mines in the Austin area were in decline. Secondly, the petition contained twice as many signatures as tax payers in the entire county.
Clearly a fraudulent attempt, the legislature was inclined to move the center of county government to Hamilton which was the area of greatest population.
Discussion of creation of a new county began in January of 1869 and would continue for months as the legalities of judicial and governing appointees were decided.
By late February, the boundaries were determined. The included: “All that portion of the State of Nevada lying east of a line running due north and south through the most westerly part of the house known as Shannon’s Station, on the westerly slope of Diamond Mountains in Lander county, on the road from Austin to Hamilton in said county, and south of a line running due east and west through the most northerly part of Camp Ruby, and north of the present line between the Counties of Nye and Lander….”
On March 2, 1869, the debate concluded and White Pine County was created by act of the Nevada State Legislature.
The county would begin official operations on April 1st of the same year. Officials were appointed and given four weeks to arrive at the remote town of Hamilton nearly 300 miles from Carson City.
Newly appointed officials arrived but the boom was short lived. The richest of the ore had already been mined and beginning in the fall, the population began to decline.
Other mining districts were booming and miners would chase the rumors of the newest and richest discoveries.
The town of Hamilton would continue as the county seat even though its population was dwindling. An intentionally set fire in 1872 would destroy most of the town and officially end “the shortest lived, but most intensive mining boom in American History.”
Mineral wealth was discovered in other areas of the county. Ward, Taylor, and Cherry Creek would each take their turn as boom towns in the area.
The county seat would move from Hamilton to Ely in 1887 and the county would remain viable until the massive discovery of copper ore in 1900. The mining of the Robison District would propel the county forward into the 20th century and beyond.